Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa Claus. The portly gentleman in the red and white suit is just as much a festive essential as turkey and tinsel, even if he does have the remarkable ability to be in an awful lot of places at the same time.
You can’t blame Buddy the Elf for being disappointed when it’s not his best friend who turns up in the department store, but somebody else entirely.
That ‘imposter’ is just one in a long line of cinematic Santas and, without wanting to sound like The Grinch, they’re a mixed bag, from the joyful to the downright miserable.
Here’s our top ten, but in no particular order – and starting with Buddy’s favourite…
Ed Asner – Elf
Jon Favreau’s Christmas perennial doesn’t give The Man In Red that much screen time but, when he’s in the mix, Ed Asner is a great Santa – craggy, twinkly and just a little gruff.
Let’s face it, if it hadn’t been for him, Buddy would never have become an elf and we’d have all missed out on a Christmas classic!
Billy Bob Thornton – Bad Santa
The fact that he’s not the real Santa is the least of Billy Bob Thornton’s problems. He plays Willie T. Stokes, a suicidal alcoholic thief who takes on the Santa Claus job in a department store for one reason only – to carry on robbing.
A miserable, crude, downright rude criminal, he’s the antithesis of everything Father Christmas should be. Like we said, he’s not the real one…
Tim Allen – The Santa Clause
Tim Allen’s divorced dad doesn’t get off to the best of starts in this trilogy when he has to take over Santa’s job after accidentally startling the old boy literally to death while he’s standing on the roof. And saving Christmas is part of the deal.
Two sequels concentrate on finding the perfect Mrs Claus and making the decision to be Santa for life, and Allen is very much up to the job throughout.
Always with one foot in the real world, he’s never overly jolly, but plays it right down the middle – and it works a treat.
Jim Belushi – Jingle All The Way
Billy Bob Thornton may have played Bad Santa, but Jim Belushi got there first, providing one of the highlights in a seasonal Schwarzenegger comedy vehicle that was largely panned at the time, but has become something of a festive favourite.
Belushi’s mall Santa was as corrupt as they come, providing dark humour with his stolen-goods warehouse, and getting in the way of Arnie’s attempts to get a Turbo-Man for his son. His is the performance that sticks in your memory.
Ed Ivory – The Nightmare Before Christmas
An animated Father Christmas, so we never get to see Ivory, just hear his voice.
His Santa, the leader of Christmas Town, has the usual attributes – a bushy beard and a big belly – but he has a pretty rough time, kidnapped by a skeleton, and with his life at stake during a game with a bogeyman.
Somehowthough, he manages to follow tradition by delivering presents to all the children, and a jolly ‘ho, ho, ho’ is never far away.
Kurt Russell – The Christmas Chronicles
Santa went all rock ‘n’ roll in last year’s offering from Netflix.
Kurt Russell’s Claus didn’t always follow the rules – he wore leather instead of fur, played the blues and knew fake news when he saw it – but he had charm, charisma and, dammit, he was sexy as well!
The film was an unexpected hit, mainly down to Russell’s undoubted charm, and he’s the main reason for watching. Especially for that Elvis impersonation!
Jim Broadbent – Get Santa
Broadbent already had form playing Santa, providing his voice in animation Arthur Christmas, but in this often overlooked comedy, he was allowed to don the red and white suit and twinkle to his heart’s content, even if his Father Christmas was in something of a pickle.
After crash-landing his sleigh, he’s banged up by mistake, and that famous regalia is replaced by a drab prison uniform. Not that you’d ever mistake him for anybody other than Santa – he’s far too cuddly and lovable for that.
Gene Hackman – The French Connection
We kid you not! But don’t expect any presents or jollity from Hackman’s stakeout Santa.
His gum-chewing Popeye Doyle will chase you down the street, beat you up and make you confess to anything, all while wearing that suit and beard. Now, are you sure you’ve been nice and not naughty?
Tom Hanks – The Polar Express
It’s hard to imagine anybody more suited to play Father Christmas than all-round-good-guy Tom Hanks, even if here he’s caught in the no-man’s land between live action and animation.
Santa is one of no less than six characters he takes on, complete with a booming baritone voice. He can’t avoid the dead-eyed look of everybody around him, but the film has warmth and heart in abundance, and just makes you wish he’d play the role in a live-action film.
J. K. Simmons – Klaus
This year’s new Claus on the block arrives courtesy of Netflix – although he does have a sleigh as well.
The velvety tones of J. K. Simmons provide his voice in this animated take on Santa’s origin story.
A man of very few words to begin with, he still has all the attributes you expect of Father Christmas, although the red costume comes later, and underneath that initially gruff exterior boasts a heart of gold.
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